Dad was never one for playing games. I can’t imagine him sitting down to play Tiddlywinks or Monopoly with me. Mom was my go-to game-playing parent.
But Dad did teach me how to play checkers.
My parents bought me one of those dimestore affairs, with a paper board that we taped because it fell apart and cheap plastic chips.
I was four years old.
I don’t remember much about the games we played. What I do remember is the brightly-colored plastic bowl by Dad’s side, filled with carrot and celery sticks. Dad was far from a vegetarian, and normally hated crunchy things, as he was afraid he would crack a tooth. I remember him crunching loudly on those crisp vegetables, sweat on his brow, his eyes ablaze with more than just someone playing a casual game of checkers with his young daughter.
Dad was kicking his Valium habit, the one he picked up after his brief run-in with Talwin. The Valium habit became pretty bad, even I could tell at that young age. I remember the fights, the retreating into the bedroom for days at a time, the growling bear that would emerge when he would join us for dinner.
So he quit. Cold turkey. He never touched Valium again as far as I know. (The psych meds he received at the end of his life were not his choice.)
In the end, it didn’t matter who won or lost all of those games of checkers. There was another game being played amidst those red and black squares, and Dad proved to be the winner.